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UN: Aid workers to return to Yemen but not aid

Image of a child receiving treatment in Yemen [Human Appeal/Facebook]

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has given the United Nations permission to resume flights of aid workers to the Houthi-controlled capital today, but not to dock ships loaded with wheat and medical supplies, a UN spokesman said.

The coalition fighting the armed Houthi movement in Yemen said on Wednesday it would allow aid in through the Red Sea ports of Hudaydah and Salif, as well as UN flights to Sana'a, more than two weeks after blockading the country.

About seven million people face famine in Yemen and their survival is dependent on international assistance.

The coalition has given clearance for UN flights in and out of Sana'a from Amman today, involving the regular rotation of aid workers, said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Read: UN warns if no Yemen aid access, world will see largest famine in decades

"We're of course encouraged by the clearance of this flight which may be followed soon by clearances of flights from Djibouti to Sana'a," Laerke told a news briefing yesterday.

But no green light has been received for UN requests to bring humanitarian supply ships to Hudaydah and Salif ports, he said.

"We are particularly talking about one ship which is offshore Hudaydah with wheat from WFP [the UN World Food Programme] and another boat which is waiting in Djibouti with cholera supplies and that is also destined for Hudaydah," he said.

We stress the critical importance of resuming also commercial imports, in particular fuel supplies for our humanitarian response – transportation and so on – and for water pumping

Laerke said.

The largest fuel importing companies in Yemen have indicated they will no longer be able to supply the consumer market at the end of this week, OCHA said in a report dated 23 November.

UNICEF is also waiting to send vaccines, aid sources said.

The charity Save the Children said an estimated 20,000 Yemeni children under the age of five were joining the ranks of the severely malnourished every month, "an average of 27 children every hour".

The commercial blockade is aggravating the food crisis, "leading to a significant increase in child deaths from acute malnutrition and preventable diseases", it said in a statement.

The US-backed coalition closed air, land and sea access on 6 November, in a move it said was to stop the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward Riyadh. Iran has denied supplying weapons.

Jan Egeland, a former UN aid chief who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to Reuters in Geneva on Thursday, said of the blockade: "In my view this is illegal collective punishment."

"After more than two weeks of blockade of these ports, there are various kinds of supplies essential for fighting famine, for fighting cholera and other types of humanitarian threats that millions of people are facing in Yemen today," Laerke said.

Impoverished Yemen has remained in a state of civil war since 2014, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sana'a.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive air campaign aimed at reversing Houthi military gains and shoring up Yemen's embattled government.

According to UN officials, more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war, while more than 11 per cent of the country's population has been displaced.

International OrganisationsIranMiddle EastNewsSaudi ArabiaUNYemen
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